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I am doing a piano course and am currently about 90% of the way to the end. In the beginning of the course they teach C position, D position and G position in both main octaves and then later it extends to other positions. In the beginning pretty much all the melodies you play stay within a 5 note range and then later on you do pinky stretches and thumb stretches until, towards the end of the course, it really seems that there are no positions because the hand is moving around so much. So my question, is why do they teach you these positions when in most songs, the melody will never stay in such a small range. Is playing in a "position" just a beginners thing? Or do advanced players use positions?

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    I was never taught positions :o – DKNguyen Aug 6 '20 at 1:06
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    Yeah not all piano players are taught positions. I’ve never even heard of that before. Seems to me like it would not be the best teaching method for all students and types of music. – Todd Wilcox Aug 6 '20 at 4:58
  • @ToddWilcox I was just taught to view the upcoming group of notes and space your fingers for best convenience with them and so you can properly walk your fingers if you need your hand to move. It was one of the most convenient things I found about piano compared to something like the violin where it you actually need to know the position you are in since there are no visual markers on the instrument and it can be very unclear what position is most convenient from looking at the sheet music. – DKNguyen Aug 6 '20 at 5:29
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It sounds like you are learning "five-finger position." It depends on the passage, but you could extend out with fingers 1 or 5...

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There are also basic positions for playing chords with your fingers spaced out. Eventually you learn techniques for changing between positions. This uses a few positions...

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...first a chord position on C, then a five-finger portion that would conceptually be on F, then another five-finger position on G.

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  • yes 5 finger positions but in the later part of the course, the changes seem void because the fingers don't really correlate with the positions I learned instead serve to make the song more comfortable to play.. that is why I ask myself, if the positions are really necessary, or should you look at each phrase for what it is and work your fingers so they can get to all notes as easily as possible? – armani Aug 5 '20 at 17:33
  • You can't play complex pieces just by working your fingers, you will need to use your wrist and arms too, and that is where positions come in. – user70370 Aug 5 '20 at 17:37
  • @armani - we have to start somewhere, and simplicity is usually key. Once the five fingers over five notes is embedded, the next stage is needed. And so on. – Tim Aug 5 '20 at 18:34
  • @armani, "...serve to make the song more comfortable to play..." in a nutshell that is the goal of good fingerings. I would say it's common for the hand to change position as frequently as once every beat or two beats. The result may seem to never be in a position, because it's constantly in flux. Please post a specific example of fingering/position you don't understand. – Michael Curtis Aug 5 '20 at 19:35
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Positions are a way of orienting yourself on the keyboard.

With increasing range, you simply need to switch between positions. But at any given point in time, you will still be playing with a position and need to know how that position works.

(Am bassist but we basically have the same problem.)

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  • I would also add that the C and G notes are used the most often, and it gives a basic layout of the keyboard. Another reason would be to make it easier to learn transposition, later on, and it helps learn scales. – 10 Rep Aug 6 '20 at 2:29
  • @10Rep - that's a doubtful statement - all 3 parts of it! – Tim Aug 6 '20 at 15:41
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I never learned "positions." I did learn fingering. I believe they serve the same purpose. They strive to teach you habits that you will need for more complex songs.

At a lower level, you can be quite inefficient with your fingering choices and still make music. The songs are simple enough for that. As you progress, the songs get more complex. Eventually they start pushing the physical limits of what the human body can do. If you are being inefficient with your fingering, you simply wont be able to hit the notes you need to hit (or at least not with the tone quality and precision needed to sound great).

Of course, we can't start on songs that demonstrate this complexity. We need to start simple. So every piano course I am aware of has some constraint that they apply to force you to do the "right" fingering. I put "right" in quotes, of course, because there often isn't a "right" fingering. But what you do have is a fingering which the developers of the curriculum found were effective in teaching the habits that you are going to want to have later on.

And, on one day, it will indeed matter, like this delightful little message found in Jon Schmidt's All of Me:

All of Me, measure 41 All of Me, measure 42

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    And, if there was any question as to whether the concept of "positions" is sacrosanct, 2:18 in the linked video should dispel any rumors. – Cort Ammon Aug 6 '20 at 14:47
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position is a mean for trans-position!

E.g.: block chords, motifs, passages etc.

Mind how often we have to play an imitation of the subject from another degree like the dux and comes in a fugue. In all such cases of imitation or development of a figuration you are very comfort to know the positions.It also helps to analyze and memorize a piece. You just realize this is the imitation of the theme on another tone or degree, e.g. diatonic transposition, and you don’t read and mind the single notes but the whole figure and pattern recognizing the interval of transposition and sequenzes.

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I guess, the idea is to accustom the student to choosing efficient fingerings for a melody. I've never been taught the concept of positions, but I've been taught to choose my fingering in a way that

  • prefers positioning fingers on adjacent diatonic notes

  • avoids any jumps (sometimes not possible, techniques for changing position are helpful here)

  • moves the hand around the least amount possible.

If you play by these rules, you'll quickly realize that you are doing exactly what you've been taught by doing positions. With the only difference that you've only been taught the results, not the principles. (I'm thankful to my teachers that they taught me the principles, for they can be applied in a much broader way without needing to remember so much.)

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I was taught classical piano in Poland - and we have no notion of "positions" you speak of, nor any tradition of teaching them (that's the first time I hear about them). Pianists are expected to play scales and passages (there are separate exams for that) using the established fingering, but there's no "fingering theory" at any stage.

Probably the rules are learned through osmosis - and in real pieces they would be MUCH more complex than what you are describing. The only two pieces of "theory" I recall is: "try avoid 1 and 5 on black keys", "use whatever the book suggests". At later stages, when working with harder pieces, finding the best possible fingering is considered a part of student's work - each hand is a bit different and sometimes finding the "right" fingering makes a tricky passage playable.

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  • Your 2nd sentence sounds like something rather unnecessary - why would it be best for every pianist to adhere to the established fingering? Which I presume for the exam would be written verbatim. – Tim Aug 6 '20 at 15:44
  • @TIm Well, that's how it was. The "Scales and Arpeggios" (antykwariatlibra.pl/shop/nuty-1/…) was THE bible with THE only approved fingerings. Poland was a communist state back then - there was a SINGLE, national music publisher, publishing countless editions of the same book for the single ministry-approved curriculum (and state-mandated piano exams). I didn't even realize that other fingerings were possible :) – fdreger Aug 6 '20 at 16:03
  • @Tim: By the way: it was the same with the theory of music. There was a single, authoritative book on harmony - two volumes by Kazimierz Sikorski (author of the original orchestration of our national anthem, btw). Since 1948 there were over 20 editions of the book (and there were no other books on the topic, due to there not being any non-state owned publishing houses...), it was the only basis for the theory of music curriculum. – fdreger Aug 6 '20 at 16:32
  • @Tim this could be the source of our disagreements concerning theoretical questions here on music se. I developed a strong allergy to any suggestions that "there is one official way" to describe something in music theory, or to play something on the pianio. – fdreger Aug 6 '20 at 16:34
  • So, do we agree, or agree to disagree? I am totally aginst any idealism that says there's only one way - my way. ' Cos patently, there isn't. – Tim Aug 6 '20 at 17:04
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For complete beginners - children in particular - the concept of anchoring the hand is a good one - I use it, but it's never too long before it gets out of hand, literally. So plan B comes out - look at the next set of notes, and decide where a good anchor point can be. And it can't always work!

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This sounds like 'over-thinking' things to be honest. With stringed instruments, positions are a 'thing' in that you think about starting frets maybe more than with a piano, where any note is more-or-less available quickly. It would be more constructive to ensure firstly that all five fingers in each hand, particularly the left, are strong and nimble. Most amateur pianists have weak fourth and fifth fingers, particularly in the left hand, and this leads them to awkward fingering in an attempt to avoid using those fingers. Instead, I would purchase a copy of Hanon's exercises and practice these for half an hour a day - yes, boring, I know but they will greatly strengthen those weak fingers and then encourage you to actually use them. At that point to be honest fingering is more an issue of preference than some kind of divine law and if you also practice your scales as well as Hanon you'll soon start using the patterns you memorise when playing pieces of music. Finally, remember the Prime Directive. It is far far better to play the wrong note at the right time than the right note at the wrong time. If you are rhythmically all over the place pausing to find notes, you need to slow down until you can play a piece with accurate rhythm. The odd wrong note is something you just gloss over and plough on - even professional musicians make mistakes, they just don't stop to think about them. Now go have fun!.

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